Friday, 21 October 2022-Citizens of Indramayu, Indonesia, under the organizations JATAYU (Anti-Smoke Network of Indramayu) and ALBIN (Clean Indramayu Alliance), came together in a peaceful action in front of Indramayu 1 coal-fired power plant. Activists from around the world conducted this protest simultaneously with various activities worldwide, the International Action Day against Big Bad Biomass. For as long as the Indramayu 1 plant has been operating, local citizens have suffered crippling impacts, including the loss of livelihood and emerging illnesses.

The biomass co-firing method is one of the Indonesian government’s key energy transition strategies. It has been heralded as a clean and carbon-neutral method even though biomass emission is just as dirty, or even dirtier than coal.

Indramayu 1 coal-powered plant with a 3 x 330 MW capacity, located in Sumuradem Village, Sukra District, Indramayu Regency, is one of the 35 co-firing coal-power plants in Indonesia. The plant has been operating since 2011. It is managed by a subsidiary of the National Electricity Company and it has been co-firing biomass by 2021. Co-firing was conducted by mixing palm kernel, rice husks, and wood pellets in portions between 1% to 10% with coal in the combustion process.

Based on residents’ observation, the emissions from the co-firing process in Indramayu 1 have the same or even worse impact than pure coal burning. The emission could complicate the effects already experienced by the residents: damaged rice fields and plantations, diminishing fishing yields, and also respiratory and optic infections on citizens. 

“Our yields are diminishing. Failed crops forced us to borrow money to plant new seeds, which often also fails and makes it even harder to pay debts off,” said Surmi, a farmer member of JATAYU. “Plus, this thick smoke hurt my eyes. She added, “I’ve had five eye surgeries and can no longer work in the fields,” she added. 

By 2025, the government plans to expand this co-firing practice into 52 plants as one of the “green solutions” to pursue the targeted 23% renewable energy mix. There are suspicions that this policy will be an excuse to extend the life of soon-to-be-retired coal plants.

“Since 2020, the Indramayu 1 plant has started co-firing biomass. This activity will have a considerable impact on environmental pollution and the health of residents, which was already heavily damaged before the power plant carried out the co-firing scheme. The logging activities for wood pellets also threaten the increasing global temperature. We also can’t rule out the possibility of an ecological disaster,” said Wahyudin from Indonesian Forum for the Environment (WALHI) in West Java.

The research “Battle on Emission Reduction Claims” launched by Trend Asia in 2022 found that the co-firing method is not carbon neutral. This practice fails to be sustainable when the total emission from the upstream to the downstream is calculated as a whole, especially considering the impact of deforestation and the ecological damage caused by the transition of natural forests and jungles into Energy Plantations (HTE).

“This co-firing practice is not a powerful solution to Indonesia’s energy problems. It is not completely carbon neutral. The government uses this practice to appear “green” in front of the international community and to have an easier way to catch up with the targeted renewable energy mix percentage. Especially just before the G20 meeting. When you also consider the lagging early retirement plans of the coal plants, this policy panders to the coal business oligarchy at the affected people’s and the climate’s expense. We should take the threat of climate change seriously. This co-firing agenda shifts our focus from effective, real clean energy solutions,” said Meike Inda Erlina, a campaigner for Trend Asia.

Other than the impacts on the people’s economy and health, this co-firing practice could burden the state’s finances. Currently, the Java-Bali grid — Indonesia’s largest electricity grid, is oversupplied at an increasing rate. It will reach 61% in 2030 and hinder the introduction of clean, renewable, and sustainable energy, like wind and solar energy. Unfortunately, the government chose an energy source that is dirty, destructive, and costly due to the environmental damage it causes.

Through the Big Bad Biomass action, the citizens demanded the government to take a firm stance on the early retirement of coal plants and to seriously push the transition to cleaner and more sustainable energy. Specifically, they also demand the closure of the Indramayu 1 plant, which has been proven to damage residents’ environment, health, economy, and social life.

Please access the photographs here.